“Journalists hang out” rules the airwaves

By Benson Idonije

Journalists’ Hang Out programme session

Nigerian television stations aired a lot of local content in 2016 that provided the desired variety for their various target audiences. Some of them offered news as it broke; some generated entertainment in live action; others treated audiences to movies and documentaries. But perhaps, the production that stood out like the Northern star was ‘Journalists’ Hang out,’ a live discussion broadcast on Television Continental (TVC).A composite programme type that thoroughly obeys the ‘formal’ discussion production technique, it has continued to be broadcast from Monday to Friday, a rather ambitious resolve indeed, considering the amount of work that goes into producing one single edition – in terms of research, preparation and other behind–the–scenes logistics.

The well-attended bumper edition, which held last week Monday to celebrate its success, is not the only testimony to its popularity and tremendous viewership, the caliber of viewers who have responded to its audience participation initiative speaks volumes: as highly placed as the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, former military Head of State, Ibrahim Babangida, First Lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, among others, have called in to identify with the programme. Which goes to show that the ‘Hang Out’ is a valid contribution to the wider area of public debate and a part of the broadcaster’s positive role in a democratic society. Indeed, the programme has a well-defined aim, and all efforts are usually geared towards achieving this avowed objective in the national interest. This ‘Hang Out’ seems no less than a relevant platform for generating positive ideas for national development, particularly in these times of economic recession.

Perhaps the greatest factor that has helped to sustain the programme is the professional adherence to its ‘formal’ or ‘panel’ production procedure in terms of choice of moderator, quality of discussants, speaker control, subject control and the like, which are fine production points. Topics selected for discussion are usually those in which there is genuine public interest or concern, a reason why the programme is inundated with the plethora of calls by Nigerians from various parts of the world.

The title of the programme makes it easy for the producer to look out for discussants from the same profession, instead of striving to balance production with resource people from different fields of endeavours if the title was otherwise. And indeed, the producer has a pool of seasoned journalists to draw from.

One of the programme’s strong points is the choice of moderator, who is firm, sensitive, quick-thinking, passionate, enthusiastic, committed, impartial and courteous. He also has a sense of humour and is protective of the station against libel – from the way he frowns at participants, who phone in to demonstrate this tendency. From what he says and the way he says them, it is obvious that he has sufficiently researched into the subject and has all the facts at his fingertips. His discussants, who have been duly briefed, also come prepared with their knowledge of research.

However, a lot more still needs to be done to sustain the good work: Some attention needs to be paid to ‘speaker’ and ‘subject’ control, which are the ingredients that drive production procedure. The fact that several people are talking at the same time in a discussion programme may be an indication that the programme is exciting and interesting. Indeed, it may be a useful indicator of the strength of feeling, but not in a ‘panel’ discussion of this nature where there is need for a democratic expression of views and viewers expect to hear out everybody to be thoroughly informed and educated about issues that affect them.

Sometimes, the moderator interrupts to contribute to the discussion or disagree with discussants; at other times, he competes with discussants in making their points, in agreement. He needs to maintain a level of independence; his main task is to provide equal opportunity of expression to participants. He can interrupt, particularly if he does so constructively… ”That’s an important point, but before we go on, how do others react to that? – Babajide?” This clever approach gives the speaker, who might have missed the point, no ill feeling. He can also help out a poor speaker, who is nervous and diffident, but has something brilliant to say. The moderator should prevent two or more voices from speaking at the same time, other than for a brief interjection, by a decisive and clear indication of ‘who holds the floor.’

All the discussants are knowledgeable but special commendation should go to Babajide Kolade-Otitoju, who, in fact, is a great asset to the programme in terms of his in- depth and objective analyses from a limitless repository of knowledge. But like the others, let him know that he has ‘no right to interject.’ He can always indicate to the moderator, who is the chairman, if and when he has something to say. Let us leave ‘interjection’ to the chairman – to maintain order and carry all the discussants along equally.

The success of ‘Journalists’ Hangout’ reminds me of ‘Face–Off,’ which is exactly its opposite in terms of production procedure, on Channels Television, a station reputed for credibility in news reporting. ‘Face–Off’ started well as argument and counter-argument expressed in conversational form by people actually holding two opposing views with conviction, the moderator remaining independent. This is the aim that should drive the programme, but it lost its viewership when it eventually lost this focus, degenerating into a rag-bag of clustered issues loosely strung together as moderators now offer their own opinions even as they argue and take sides with debaters, apparently in the bid to show off their own knowledge of the subject matter – at the expense of the programme.

Let us hope that ‘Journalists’ Hang Out’ does not travel along this same path!

 

Credit: The Guardian | 15 January 2017

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